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Biomimetically-inspired photonic nanomaterials


Nature has been kind enough to provide us with a 3-billion year old portfolio of an on-going experiment with living systems. There are well-optimised engineering solutions to mechanical, aerodynamic, hydrodynamic and optical problems all to be found in the living world Bar-Cohen (Bioinspir Biomim 1:P1–P12, 2006), Bhusan (Phil Trans Roy Soc A 367: 1445–1486, 2009). However, Nature is severely limited in the materials that are at its disposal so that as engineers we can improve on Nature’s solutions to particular problems by taking Nature’s design template as a starting point and then incorporating our own more appropriate materials, or metamaterials into that template design. We can also use Nature’s solutions as a starting point in our own “evolutionary algorithms” by taking Nature’s 3-billion year old solution as our initial starting point and then extrapolating that solution to (effectively) thousands of billions of years into the future using digital computers. This review article will consider just one particular application area of biomimetics—photonic nanomaterials Vukusic (Natural Photonics. Physics World pp. 35–39, 2004).

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I would like to thank Prof. Peter Dobson of Oxford University for supplying details of, and paper references for, biological material exhibiting optical gain, and Prof. Simon Cox (University of Southampton) for information and diagrams regarding the evolutionary design of optical nanostructures. I would also like to thank Prof. Andrew Parker (Natural History Museum), Dr. Pete Vukusic (University of Exeter) and Dr. Stuart Boden with Prof. Darren Bagnall (University of Southampton) for kind permission to use their hard-won microscopy images and for many useful discussions. Thanks also to Dr. Tamara M. Frank for permission to use her outstanding image of the amazing Brownsnout Spookfish. I would also like to acknowledge the financial support of the EPSRC in a series of photonic crystal related grants which provided the base material for much of this article.

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Correspondence to Gregory J. Parker.

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Parker, G.J. Biomimetically-inspired photonic nanomaterials. J Mater Sci: Mater Electron 21, 965–979 (2010).

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  • Photonic Crystal
  • Structural Colour
  • Butterfly Wing
  • Refractive Index Contrast
  • Wing Scale